A new ingredient has been a source of much delight for me over the past few days. By new I don’t mean to say it’s a discovery of sorts or anything to that effect , on the contrary it’s something that’s always been a part of our cuisine. I’m referring to dried coconut meat , otherwise known as copra.
A few days ago we had to clear up a small pile of dried coconuts. In my mind the best way to use up dried coconut was to make cold pressed oil. But I wondered where to send such a small quantity for pressing. Not wanting to waste any , I decided to cut them open. As it split neatly into two halves I was delighted to see that though the outer was dried to an almost burnished charcoal ,the inside was just perfect. The smooth shell required little cleaning. Using a sharp,small paring knife I found it was easy to get thin slivers of dried coconut. I cannot begin to describe how excited I got looking at the thin shavings because there was just so much I could do with them.
A friend who moved back from the US absolutely loves adding dried coconut flakes as a topping on her chia porridge, in her muesli or even as a snack. I too love sprinkling an assortment of nuts , seeds and cereals to a variety of dishes. Until now I never really paid attention to adding these dried coconut shavings to anything. The first thing I did try was to lightly toast it in a dry pan with a pinch of salt and red chilli powder . The concentrated sweetness of the copra bits complemented the spice beautifully . What added to that was the deliciousness of that chewy texture. Ah yes I could see how this would be a great addition to my home made trail mix of roasted almonds , raisins, dried cranberries and walnuts. Some temple prasadams ( offerings) add these as a garnish to sweet pongal or to soaked ,sweetened aval.
I then remembered reading about using dried coconut meat to make coconut flour at home. I looked it up online and there it was. The best way to make coconut flour was from dried coconut bits. Included in the instructions was how to dry the coconut first, either using an oven or a dehydrator. It seemed like a long process and I felt both lucky and guilty that we here are blessed with the availability of naturally sun dried coconut meat all year round.
So then I did two things. I first blitzed the dried coconut to as fine a powder as possible in my blender spice jar. After setting aside half the quantity to make gluten free cookies , I spread out the rest on an oven tray and let it bake for a few minutes on low heat until it turned golden. The low temperature is important so as to not let the powder get oily. It came out great. Not only did it resemble fine breadcrumbs it also had a similar taste. No hint of the coconut sweetness whatsoever. It seemed perfect to use as a crumb topping for fish , chicken ,eggplant or cottage cheese. I can’t wait to try that out.
The gluten free cookies turned out really well though I do plan on reducing the quantity of butter used. You see the sun dried coconut meat has a good content of natural oils which anyway keeps the batter moist, so with trial and error the fat from dairy can be kept to a minimum. Another advantage is the huge saving on cost when compared to other gluten free options.
Other than fresh coconut , coconut products are gaining popularity not only because it offers a healthier alternative for baked goods but also because of the immense nutritional benefits. This healthy fat when eaten in moderation is a great source of dietary fibre and iron along with offering a wide range of minerals that are essential in minimizing the daily wear and tear caused to the body.
A few days ago another friend made pancakes for her kid using coconut flour and was thrilled at the result.I’m not saying we need to go off other flours completely . But,when my 10 year old niece comes asking me for “flourless”options to bake a cake for her mom who has a gluten allergy I am infinitely thankful that I can offer her a choice with an ingredient sourced from our own habitat.